California

San Francisco Trip In Review: Day Trip to Sonoma County Wineries

On the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend my boyfriend and I were staying at his brother’s apartment in San Rafael (along with our other friend Liz), and the four of us decided to venture up the road to the Healdsburg area for the day. Since Derek’s brother was not drinking that day, we lucked out with a built in designated driver/chauffer (thanks Matt!).

After doing a lot of online research, I booked us a FREE 10am winery tour at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards along Dry Creek Road. Several women had written on TripAdvisor that it was their favorite vineyard in the area, so I definitely didn’t want to pass it up!

Our group at Ferrari Carano - me, Derek, Matt, and Liz!

Our group at Ferrari-Carano – me, Derek, Matt, and Liz!

The experience did not disappoint.

The main house at the vineyard was built to resemble a Tuscan villa, and the vineyard itself had stunning landscaping and fountains that reminded me of the orderly and beautifully-planned designs you would find in a typical Italian style garden. We could not help but take photos at the grounds – especially since we were there so early that we beat the crowds!

Me and Derek on the grounds at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Me and Derek on the grounds at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Gardens at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Gardens at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Villa and tasting rooms at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Villa and tasting rooms at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Touring the gardens at Ferrari Carano Vineyard

Touring the gardens at Ferrari-Carano Vineyard

Ferrari Carano vineyard estate

Grape vines at the Ferrari-Carano vineyard estate

Derek and I in one of the many barrel storage rooms

Derek and I in one of the many barrel storage rooms

As part of the tour we were given a one-hour tour of the wine-making facilities, vineyard grounds, and the two tasting rooms – all while hearing the history of the estate and an explanation of its nearly perfect organic-level status (a 4 out of a 5 level ranking system). Our tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, and I ended up taking the below video of her explanation of the grape growing process to help showcase the type of knowledge you learn on the tour.

After the tour ended, we decided to pay for the more expensive tasting fee, where we were able to try some of the top wines that Ferrari-Carano produces (including some that are ONLY available if you visit the vineyard). We ended up splurging on our two favorites to bring home:  the 2010 PreVail Back Forty ($85) and the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($41). Along with that, we registered for their semi-annual wine club shipment ($160/shipment), and were pleasantly surprised to receive the first batch within a week of our trip home!

Derek and me in the wine tasting room at Ferrari Carano

Derek and me in the downstairs wine tasting room at Ferrari Carano (so fun!)

After leaving Ferrari-Carano we went to the next vineyard down Dry Creek Road called Dutcher Crossing, which was originally begun by a family from Wisconsin. The views were almost as exquisite as those at Ferrari-Carano, and the woman in the tasting room provided fantastic customer service. I had read positive reviews on TripAdvisor while I was researching the region, and our group was very pleased with the stop choice.

Dutcher Crossing entrance

Dutcher Crossing entrance

In my opinion, the wine at Dutcher Crossing was unique, and I fell in love with their 2013 Stuhlmuller Chardonnay (not available online). I’m typically not a Chardonnay fan due to how tangy I often find that type of wine to be, but this one was crisp and refreshing like an apple. It was the only white wine that we purchased that day, and I cannot wait to enjoy it during a warm summer evening on our balcony at home.

The other wine that we loved from Dutcher Crossing was the Proprietor’s Reserve 2013 Zinfandel ($30), which had a delicious flavor. Although we ended up purchasing only two bottles at Dutcher Crossing, we came very close to signing up for their wine club as well (and also close to buying a few of the floral scented candles in their shop). I’m actually quite surprised that our tipsiness at that point didn’t get the better of us!

Me and Derek after our wine tasting at Dutcher Crossing

Me and Derek after our wine tasting at Dutcher Crossing

Gorgeous view of the vineyard grounds at Dutcher Crossing

Gorgeous view of the vineyard grounds at Dutcher Crossing

Before heading to the third and last winery of the day, our group decided to stop in the town of Healdsberg for a quick lunch. A French café called Costeaux had an incredible write-up in the my California guidebook, so we took a chance to see if we could get a table – and we were in luck! The restaurant had a sunny, open feeling and was decorated in a beautiful Provincial style, which created a cheerful atmosphere. Further, each of our plates arrived with artfully-presented food that tasted as good as it looked!

The wall decor at Costeaux in Healdsburg, CA

The wall decor at Costeaux in Healdsburg, CA

costeaux food

My omelette and tea at Costeaux

costeaux french toast

The french toast at Costeaux

After finishing lunch, our last winery visit of the day was Francis Ford Coppola, which is a brand we often see (and occasionally buy) in NYC. We had heard great things about the grounds, but were most intrigued by the museum within the building.

Francis Ford Coppola tasting room building near Healdsburg, CA

Francis Ford Coppola tasting room building near Healdsburg, CA

The vineyard is owned by the Coppola family (of Hollywood renown). As you wander around, you can see a variety of props and memorabilia from some of the movies they have directed, including the Godfather movies and Tucker. They even had some of their Oscars on display! It was fun to see a piece of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood during a trip to Northern California.

DSC07174 DSC07175 DSC07177 DSC07181

After the third and final vineyard, we decided to make our way back to San Rafael for a calm evening before our planned roadtrip to Mendocino the next day. As we journeyed the hour back to the Marin County town, I realized how blessed we were to spend a day in the gorgeous valleys of Sonoma County wine country during sunny, mid 70-degree weather. Of all of the experiences that we had on our trip to San Francisco, our day in Sonoma was my favorite.

Me and Derek smiling while soaking up the Sonoma, California sunshine!

Me and Derek smiling while soaking up the Sonoma, California sunshine!

The last thing I will mention is that shipping the four bottles of wine home that we purchased was not an easy task and should be planned in advance. Our first folly was that we originally tried to ship the wine on the Monday of Memorial Day – but soon learned that USPS and UPS were both closed on those days AND FedEx has a policy not to ship wine. As a result, we were forced to wake up at 7am on Tuesday before our flight to take the bottles to the UPS store in Union Square.

Our four wine bottle purchases prior to being boxed up in the UPS shipment

Our four wine bottle purchases prior to being boxed up in the UPS shipment

All in, we bought wine shipping packaging material for about $20 and the cost of shipping was about $45. We learned a lesson that when we buy wine in Italy later this year, we will buy a special suitcase in advance to check the wine so it travels with us on the plane. That said, while the cost to ship the bottles home was steep, the sentimental value of having souvenirs from Sonoma to enjoy at our leisure was worth the money for us. We now have four incredible bottles of wine aging in our wine fridge waiting to be enjoyed on a special occasion – or when we feel a ping of nostalgia about our trip!

Cheers to that!

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See My Trip Budgeting Tool In Action: Planning for our San Fran Trip

With long, steep hills rising above a glistening bay, San Francisco is one of the most iconic cities in the world. And for a good reason – there may be no other city on the planet as gorgeous year-round as “The City by the Bay.”

Steep hill rise high out of San Francisco Bay

Steep hill rise high out of San Francisco Bay

In less than two weeks my boyfriend Derek and I are headed to SF for six days to visit his brother Matt, who recently relocated to the Bay area for his job in finance.

Needless to say, we won’t be alone. Among the ever-growing number of young professionals calling San Francisco home, the city hosts an estimated 16 MILLION tourists each year! That’s double the population of New York City visiting annually!

The Golden Gate Bridge hiding in the SF Skyline - Dec 2010

The Golden Gate Bridge hiding in the SF Skyline – Dec 2010

With that said, the only other time I’ve been to San Francisco was in December 2010 for a long weekend – and my boyfriend has never been before. Having visited in early winter last time, my strongest memories are of thick, slow to disperse fog, as well as temperatures that barely cracked 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fog Clearing Over San Francisco - Dec 2010

Fog Clearing Over San Francisco – Dec 2010

This time we will be going in mid-May, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for sunshine and mild, mid-60’s temperatures.

With my expectation for beautiful weather in tow, this past week I began using my trip planning tool that I discussed in my last post to craft a daily touring schedule. I thought it would be important to plan our days and calculate roughly how much money our “extra-long weekend trip” will cost (dun…dun…dun…).

As usual, I broke out our transportation, lodging, activities, and food expenses by day. I filled in the costs of what we already booked, and then inserted estimates for anything unplanned at this point (i.e. food allowances, vineyard tasting fees, etc.). Here’s what the schedule and costs currently look like in my planning spreadsheet:

San Francisco Budget

As you can see, even though we are staying with Derek’s brother for three of the five nights, our long weekend in SF WILL NOT be cheap.

The cost of living in the Bay area is one of the highest in the United States, and the cost of being a tourist proves no different. Downtown hotels are constantly in high demand. Restaurant menus are comparable to NYC pricing.  AND if you’re taking a full-day wine tour to Napa or Sonoma counties (like we are) – ohhhhh man – the cost per person that day may completely blow your food and activity budget for the trip.

With that said, when visiting San Francisco, careful planning is essential to be able to immerse yourself in the city’s finest offerings. I used TripAdvisor and recommendations from friends to sculpt our itinerary, while keeping in mind our personal travel style.

We like wine. We like history. We like nature.

We don’t like crowded, kitschy, tourist-filled hotspots.

Tourists waiting in line to ride the only National Monument that moves - the San Francisco trolley car

Tourists waiting in line to ride the only National Monument that moves – the San Francisco trolley car

So, after discussing together what will be most important to the two of us during our limited number of days in the city, we decided to de-prioritize some of the most common destinations – Alcatraz, Chinatown, and Pier 39. We figured they just aren’t our cup of tea.

The gate to SF's Chinatown district - Dec 2010

The gate to SF’s Chinatown district – Dec 2010

Wild seals relaxing by the docks at Pier 39 - Dec 2010

Wild seals relaxing by the docks at Pier 39 – Dec 2010

Instead, we pinpointed that we want to see The Presidio (with the Golden Gate Bridge backdrop), the Mission District, the Ghirardelli Factory, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the other destinations listed in my spreadsheet above.  By talking to my travel companion in advance about our expectations and priorities, we were not only able to estimate how much money we will spend in our activity budget each day, but I feel we have the flexible itinerary in place to optimize each day of our trip.

Outside the Ghirardelli Factory in downtown SF - Dec 2010

Outside the Ghirardelli Factory in downtown SF – Dec 2010

While some people enjoy spontaneity on their vacations, I always recommend traveling with some general idea of what you will do upon your arrival as well as how much money you plan to spend. In this way, you will avoid two types of regrets – spending over your budget and not seeing everything you wanted to see.

I hope this post provides a helpful example of how my trip budgeting tool can be applied in real life, as well as how you can replicate it for one of your upcoming trips!

For your reference, feel free to download my SF trip planning spreadsheet (seen in the above spreadsheet screenshot) from my MeansToTravel google docs. From there, you can make and save changes that apply to your own upcoming trips!